Alone Again, Naturally

WONDER WEDNESDAY

On Wednesdays I’ll be taking a look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. This is the sixth in a series of posts on Greg Rucka’s much-lauded stint writing Wonder Woman. The first five installments are herehereherehere and here. My write-up of the most recent era of Wonder Woman is here.

What you see is what you get. This one’s all about the OMACs.

Wonder Woman: Mission’s End, DC Comics, 2006.

By Sam Hurwitt

Well, this is it: the last book of Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman, and in fact it’s the end of the whole Wonder Woman series that George Perez relaunched in 1987. Unfortunately, the impending Infinite Crisis crossover ended Rucka’s run prematurely, mandating a lot of changes to the status quo of the character, which means that all the stories Rucka may have planned to tell, and some he was clearly setting up, were cut short. Consequently, this volume largely consists of Rucka hastily tearing down the house that he had so painstakingly and enticingly built over the last several books. Plotlines are truncated wherever they left off, with only the most perfunctory resolution, as the bulk of the book is devoted to a crossover with Rucka’s The OMAC Project miniseries that was part of the buildup to Infinite Crisis. That means, sadly, that this last part of Rucka’s run is also the weakest. But it still has some lovely moments, and at least one infuriating one, all of which makes it worth exploring as the rocky end of an era.

Guest-starring the dark knight! See, he’s right behind her on the left.

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #218, DC Comics, August 2005.

Hey, remember a couple books ago when Circe decided to enlist Wonder Woman’s new enemy Veronica Cale to help her get her daughter back from the Amazons who were raising her? Well, Ares winds up taking care of that himself. He just goes to Themyscira and takes the kid. Rucka’s go-to Amazon and original creation, the blacksmith Io, tries to fend him off, which doesn’t go so well. (Wasn’t there an enchantment that kept weapons off Themyscira mentioned in one of the earlier books? I guess that must have been broken when the island got displaced. Anyway, Circe and Ares go running off together, taking them both effectively (and suddenly) off the table.

And she’s in her underwear because shut up, that’s why.

Meanwhile, Cale’s best friend and business partner Leslie comes to confront Veronica about all those evil schemes of hers, and they decide they’re not friends anymore. And that’s the last we ever hear of Veronica Cale as a Wonder Woman villain. From here on out she’ll pop up here and there as a freelance mad scientist menacing pretty much anyone who comes along, her vendetta against Diana apparently forgotten. It’s kind of sad after all that buildup; she’s the archnemesis that never was.

Wonder Woman’s archenemy Veronica Cale, ladies and gentlemen. Now available for bat mitzvahs.

Wonder Woman has her sight back, but it’s not really her sight—it’s a portion of Athena’s own, which gives her more insight even than she’d normally have. Jonah, the new guy in her employ from the first issue of Rucka’s run on Wonder Woman, was revealed in the last volume to be some kind of spy, and now Diana suddenly sees right through him. But just as she’s about to confront him, she hears that Io’s been badly wounded, and she comes a-running.

All of this feels like very hasty clean-up to make way for the big crossover action that will end the series, and it’s unfortunate. These were things that seemed like they’d be actual stories, and ones I looked forward to reading, and instead they’re touched on glancingly just to show they weren’t forgotten, in a domino chain of anticlimaxes. In a way it’s worse than if they’d been conveniently forgotten, because now instead of wondering what all that build-up was for it provides an unsatisfying answer: Nothing really, at least not anymore.

And yeah, heroes fight all the time, but not like this.

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #219, DC Comics, September 2005.

This issue takes up where three different Superman series left off (and Diana has trouble keeping one series–there’s no justice), so first there are a couple of pages of text summary in the trade paperback to catch you up on what you missed. These summary pages are remarkably clumsily written, reading more like an outline than anything intended to be read by humans, with sentences like, “Superman, going against his long-held code against killing, attempting to kill Brainiac for his crimes.” (And, in the next issue, “Superman, going against his long-held code against killing, attempting to kill Darkseid for his crimes.”) The upshot is that the old Justice League International founder Maxwell Lord is mind-controlling Superman, making him brutally harm his friends by making him imagine they’re his most powerful foes who’ve just done something horrible to his loved ones.

And yeah, his nose bleeds when he Maxnipulates people. It’s a thing.

Now, in Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’s terrific run of Justice League International and its spinoffs, Max Lord was always a cynical manipulator, but he was ultimately a good guy who meant well. All that went out the window in 2005’s wretched Countdown to Infinite Crisis, cowritten by Geoff Johns, Rucka, and Judd Winick. There Lord was suddenly revealed to have secretly been a one-note standard-issue villain all along, when he murders his old friend Blue Beetle for coming too close to figuring out his plans. He’s motivated by fear and hatred of all superhumans, which couldn’t be farther from everything we know about his personality if he was the Bizarro version of Max Lord.  It is, in fact, the exact opposite of the Max we know, the guy who founded a new Justice League.

Yeah, that doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. And don’t Maxsplain to me, mister.

That wasn’t the only stunningly out-of-character alteration made by that comic. Motivated by similar paranoia, it was revealed that Batman created a surveillance satellite that’s now used to control an army of cyborgs, the OMACs, that infest normal people and turn them into killing machines. Now Max controls them too. Rucka himself wrote the miniseries The OMAC Project that also led into the company-wide crossover Infinite Crisis, so I don’t want to make it sound as if he didn’t have a hand in the events that led to the crash and burn of his Wonder Woman arc. Far from it.

In any case, all that stuff takes over Wonder Woman for the remainder of its run. (The series was discontinued at the end of Rucka’s run, as one of the gimmicks of Infinite Crisis would be that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all took a year off from superheroics at the end of it. Mind you, the boys got to keep their books running, as usual, while hers had to start over again.)

In one of Superman’s many comics (Adventures of Superman #642), Wonder Woman had managed to stop the hero from killing Batman in his Max-induced delirium. She then went after Max, and this issue of her own title opens with him compelling Superman to try to kill her, thinking she’s his old indestructible foe Doomsday.  Diana tries to reason with Max, but like I said, he’s become a standard-issue supervillain now and isn’t about to let Superman out of his clutches. The battle between Wonder Woman and Superman is pretty damned brutal, and she has to struggle just to survive.

Man, comic writers love that maneuver. Batman once used it against the Hulk.

Fortunately, even if she’s not as strong as he is, she’s a better fighter, so she manages to hold her own. He does snap one of her wrists, though, so it’s a good thing that the current design of her bullet-defecting bracelets is long enough that one can be used as a makeshift cast. She even manages to wound him with her tiara, presumably because he’s vulnerable to magic (not any more vulnerable to it than anyone else is, but not any less, either).

So much teeth-gritting!

It’s a hell of a fight, and the issue is worth reading for that alone. But unfortunately, this issue is remembered for one thing, and it’s something that defined Wonder Woman right up until the “New 52” reboot last year. Max says the only way to free Superman from his control is to kill him, and Diana believes him, snapping his neck like it’s nothing. It’s even worse because he’s tied up in her magic lasso at the time, seemingly helpless.

The broken neck that launched a thousand lectures.

For a long time, that would be all that anyone talked about when they talked about Wonder Woman, how she killed a guy. It seemed like every time she’d team up with anyone, they’d moralize at her about it. Superman and Batman were the most insufferable about it.  It became her thing—she was the one who killed Max Lord. It’s especially a shame because it inextricably linked these two characters who’d never had much of anything to do with each other. In the Blackest Night crossover event, when the dead came back as zombies to haunt people, usually those closest to them, who came for Wonder Woman?  Yep, Max, and only Max—someone she’d never really given a rat’s ass about one way or another, as far as anyone could tell, until it became necessary to kill him.

And was it necessary? Probably not. Sure, he said it was, with the magic lasso making him tell the truth, but Diana’s supposed to be more creative than that, and just plain better than that. Can I believe that she’d kill someone if there was no other option? Sure, absolutely. She’s a warrior. But she’s also a superhero, one of the most scrupulously ethical of them–and more to the point, one of the smartest. With the old wisdom of Athena, Wonder Woman could surely have come up with a better way. But the big crossover event dictated that she be saddled with this, so that’s what happened.

Nothing like this happens, but it’s a memorable cover. Don’t ass me why. And Batman’s barely in it. 

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #220, DC Comics, October 2005.

Let the moralizing begin! Superman, the guy who nearly killed Wonder Woman mere moments before, and who she just saved from a lifetime of doing Max Lord’s bidding, is very, very disappointed in her. They were best friends, and now he doesn’t like her anymore because she’s a killypants.

Puppydog eyes are one of his lesser-known superpowers.

She stands by her decision as necessary, but there’s no time to debate it because reports are coming in that there are nukes and tidal waves everywhere. Some of these things are false alarms, but not all, and all of them are designed to keep the heroes busy. Because, well, Checkmate, the superspy organization that Max was apparently now running (although he’d never been involved with it before), is doing stuff, and the Brother Eye satellite and its OMACs are doing other stuff, and it’s all very vague and confusing but also very bad.

Yeah, what the freaky eye thing said in the hard-to-read font that looks like a Green Lantern thing but isn’t.

Diana finally gets a chance to check back on what the heck is up with Jonah, only to find that he’s flown the coop, and the secret is… he’s with Checkmate!  That same shadowy organization that’s never had anything to do with Wonder Woman is apparently totally obsessed with her now, and has been for some months.

Man, EVERYBODY hates superheroes all of a sudden. It’s almost like it’s a plot device!

And like Max, Jonah’s whole motivation seems to be a rabid hatred of all superhumans—a far cry from the starstruck newbie who joined in Rucka’s first issue, although maybe he had some kind of dark secret in mind for Jonah all along. I doubt it had anything to do with Checkmate, though, because that stuff really does come out of left field.  But once it’s in, it’s all in. Also, it’s worth noting that Checkmate has always had super-powered people involved in it at the highest levels, so the idea of it as a “kill all metahumans” organization is new and awfully random.

Oh yeah, Batman hates her now too. 

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #221, DC Comics, November 2005.

OMACs attack! One of Rucka’s contributions to Infinite Crisis was to take Jack Kirby’s futuristic technology-enhanced hero OMAC (One-Man Army Corps) as inspiration to create a present-day army of OMACs through a technological virus that turned unknowing ordinary humans into an army of computer-controlled identical cyborg killers.

Diana’s dialogue here is a nice nod to the original OMAC (see below). Well played.

I never had much interest in these new OMACs, being pretty attached to the Kirby version and finding their connection with Batman pretty absurd. But they’re Rucka’s thing, so I guess I can understand him dragging them into any old book that he happens to be writing at the time.

Now THAT’s what I call an OMAC. Kirby: still the King. Still and always.

And when they come in, they come in with a vengeance. Vengeance for Max? Oh, who the heck knows?  But vengeance nonetheless. The Amazon oracle gets a vision of death and devastation, so the Amazons ask Io to build them a Purple Death Ray. You know, like you do. The Purple Ray had been used as a healing device by the Amazons ever since 1942’s Wonder Woman #1, but apparently it can also be turned into a death ray, though only the island blacksmith has the know-how to do it. (The Amazon relationship with technology has always been a little hard to fathom.)

But with your Purple Death Ray you could stop the world! Also, Io sure is naked a lot.

And although no one’s come after her, Diana decides that the only honorable thing to do is to turn herself in to be tried at the Hague for the killing of Max Lord. But just as she’s telling that to her embassy staff, the OMACs come in force to kill her. Now, the tricky thing about the OMACs is stopping them without hurting the innocent people inside them, but fortunately Diana’s pretty good at figuring that sort of thing out—at least when she has her wisdom of Athena turned on (as opposed to, say, her lack of any Plan B for Max Lord).

See, they’re crunchy on the outside, but with a chewy center.

Sadly, in the meantime, whoever or whatever’s controlling these things is also in control of Batman’s spy satellite, which of course recorded her killing Max Lord, and suddenly that footage is broadcast everywhere.  So was her killing Medousa a few books ago, of course, but her killing a scary snake-headed gorgon is a lot less controversial than killing some average-looking guy who’s already tied up.

So the PR attack was the right move all along, which makes Cale seem even more inept for botching it.

Dude, you’ve already made that reference.

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #222, DC Comics, December 2005.

Diana turns herself in to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and we watch the proceedings through the eyes of Cheetah as she roams around the building killing people for the heck of it and soliloquizing angstily about how much she hates Diana because Wonder Woman’s gods love her while Cheetah’s god is a jerk.

Oh yeah, she’s still got that normal human hand, but that’s pretty much never going to be explained.

Diana agrees to stay in the Hague while her trial is in process (“to the best of her abilities”) but soon learns about the murders going on right under her nose, which means she pretty much has to do some heroics that they’re going to frown on.

Just don’t ask Donna who she is. Ever since Byrne, you reeeeally don’t want to know.

She’s visited by Supergirl and Donna Troy, which is interesting because just in the last volume reference was made to Donna being dead. I guess she got better real quick in the meantime (in Phil Jimenez’s 2005 miniseries The Return of Donna Troy, in fact). Wonder Woman makes short work of Cheetah, who seems too concerned with her inner monologue about her abusive god-husband-master to put up much of a fight, even if she’s the one who picked the fight in the first place.

Did you ever get the feeling you’ve been, um, cheetahed?

It’s kind of a weird appearance, villain-wise, actually. Sure, there’s the interior monologue about why Cheetah hates Diana and possibly hates herself, but otherwise there’s no particular reason for it to be her attacking rather than any other villain. It just seems like Rucka needed some random villain to illustrate the unfeasibility of restricting a superhero’s movements, and Cheetah was someone he’d brought back into the mix but really had done hardly anything with, so why not use her?

Meanwhile, back on Paradise Island, one look at the TV coverage of Diana is enough to convince Io to build the Purple Death Ray, because trouble’s coming. (And yeah, I just like saying “Purple Death Ray.”) And right on cue, OMACs attack!

See, it’s because there’s going a miniseries called Amazons Attack the next year. And it’ll be horrible.

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #223, DC Comics, January 2006.

Did I mention that OMACs attack?  Oh, I guess I did.  Well, they do, and it’s pretty much a slaughterhouse, as OMACs pick off Amazons left and right. Artemis shines as a leader in battle, but they’re hopelessly outnumbered.

Fortunately, unlike Superman, Artemis has been disappointed with Diana 1,282,997 times before.

Even Helena shows up for battle, the Golden Age Fury created after the Crisis on Infinite Earths to account for the World War II adventures of a Wonder Woman who didn’t exist anymore, until John Byrne decided to send Hippolyta back in time to have those adventures instead, making Diana “Wonder Woman Jr.” in the eyes of the world when she was really the first Wonder Woman.  Got all that? Yeah, there’s a reason why the Byrne run of Wonder Woman makes me crazy, and there’s a reason we don’t talk much about exactly who Helena is. But she’s there, and it’s nice to see that we’re not pretending she doesn’t exist just because her story is so convoluted it literally made her crazy.

Someday her princess will come… oh wait, she’s here.

Anyway, the OMAC attack means Diana doesn’t abide by the terms of the court long at all, as she has to come running to the rescue, making herself a fugitive in the process.

Not even a “woo woo” for old time’s sake, Etta?

Her old pal Etta Candy passively watches the whole thing from one of the American warships circling Themyscira, under orders not to intervene but cheering Diana on. Wonder Woman fends off the OMACs as best she can, but there are too darned many of them.

I got all my sisters with me.

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #224, DC Comics, February 2006.

Led by Athena, the Amazons’ patron goddesses, Greek and Egyptian alike, make a point of not helping one bit as the OMACs wreak havoc on Themyscira.

Athena basically doesn’t give a fuck. Dude, Athena, lama sabachthani?

So the OMACs continue to pretty much slaughter the Amazons–that is, until Io builds the Purple Death Ray, whereupon the Amazons pretty much slaughter the OMACs right back.

Tee hee, did I do that?

As you might imagine, Diana is not cool with this, as there are still innocent people inside those killing machines. What’s more, Brother Eye makes it known to the world how the Amazons responded to the attack, ensuring that the outside world’s paranoia about their presence will only increase.

A *purple* death ray, Io. Don’t leave that part out.

Diana tells the Amazons that they have to leave now; the gods have to hide the island from the world again, somewhere where Diana can’t follow. This also parallels the events of the very beginning of this series of Wonder Woman, about 20 years earlier, when the island first hid away from a hostile world.

It’s been great, baby, but you gotta go.

And in the process, it’s pretty much confirmed what we already know, that Io’s in love with Diana. There are other ways to read the scene as sisterly love or whatever, but it’s there. Anyway, it’s all very abrupt, but Rucka manages to give it some resonance anyway.

Someone needs a hug. Fortunately she’ll get a bunch of them.

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #225, DC Comics, March 2006.

Her sisters gone, Diana is summoned to Olympus by Athena for a debriefing with the goddesses. Even Athena tries to comfort her, despite not being the comforting type.

Huggies! From the queen of the gods!

The gods are also going away, apparently, just to leave Wonder Woman entirely alone, with an entirely clean slate for whatever her next chapter is going to be when her next series starts several months later. Because if there’s anything that’s consistent about Wonder Woman it’s that DC feels the need to reinvent her every few years or so, and she can’t keep a supporting cast from one writer to another to save her life.

Yeah, actually you ARE going.

Just to complete that process, Diana tells the entire embassy staff that they have to go. She’s a fugitive now, and she can’t have them drawn into her mess. And besides, Themyscira is gone, so it doesn’t need an embassy anymore.

Well, that was quick. But hey, group hug!

Leslie, by the way, is now one of her loyal supporters who swear to stand by her, having ditched her friend and WW’s enemy Veronica earlier in this book. That seems awfully abrupt, but Rucka’s operating under a time constraint. At least Leslie’s shown next to Ferdinand, our favorite minotaur chef who loves her, so maybe things will work out for them after all. In any case, no sooner do they say they’re not leaving than Diana tells them no, actually you are, and off they go.

I am always touched by your presence, dears.

And Diana goes off too, to help her super friends with this big ol’ crisis and maybe get around to turning herself in again at some point—wherever she goes, it will be someone else’s story to tell. There’s an awfully poignant moment at the end where people come from all over just to tell Diana they believe in her, which provides a lovely end to the series.

But wait! There’s more!

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #226, DC Comics, April 2006.

Technically, though, there’s still one issue to go. This is kind of a weird one, because it doesn’t move the story forward at all. It’s just a ode to the friendship between Superman and Wonder Woman over the years, the friendship that was supposedly shattered when she saved him from killing her and gods know whom else after her.

It’s very similar to the story Karl Kesel told in the 2003 miniseries Batman & Superman: World’s Finest that showed the two meeting once a year, touching on major storylines told with each character over the years. In fact, here the story is framed by various issues of World’s Finest magazine, apparently a gossip rag obsessed with the never-was romance between Diana and Superman.

More like a Fortress of Mackitude, am I right? Hmm, actually no, I guess not.

We see Diana nine years ago, when she’d newly arrived and could still barely speak English, laughing with Vanessa and Julia Kapatelis about how the press is already branding the two heroes as an item, even though she’s just met Superman. Then six years ago, when the embassy opened, chatting with Superman about how each of them had come back from the dead. (This scene, by the way, is adorable, with them both eating his mom’s apple pie.)

Backwards in high heels. Love it.

Then five years ago, during her ridiculous hot pants and biker jacket era, when Artemis had taken over as Wonder Woman; Clark complains to Diana about what a pain in the ass her replacement is and says she really needs to take back the tiara. Then two years ago, a heartbreaking moment over her mother’s grave after the Our Worlds at War event. “She would have lived forever, Kal,” Diana cries, every bereaved child’s lament accentuated by her unusually realistic expectation that her mother was immortal. “She should have lived forever.”

Oof.

Then one year ago, the disillusionment of the Identity Crisis kerfuffle, with Diana pretty much the only person Superman still feels he can believe in. It ends with a big question mark: Is their friendship over? Well, honestly, probably not.

It’s a good issue, but it would have worked better as an interlude than the finale of the series. The end of the previous issue, with Diana abiding as a beacon of hope despite being more alone than she’s been in years, is a much more poignant end to the series than “Superman and Wonder Woman, best friends… forever?” But it is what it is, and it was what it was, and that’s the end of that.  For now.

This isn’t the end of Wonder Wednesday, however, as I plan to go back to the very beginning of Wonder Woman’s history next, two weeks from now.  But first, I’m actually not through with Rucka yet, as the end of his run on Wonder Woman’s own title was not quite his last bow with the character. Next week comes the horror that is Blackest Night. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

 

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Comments
  1. 8 / 15 / 2012 7:29 pm

    Ah, Rucka’s final run. So rushed, so random, so sad. I actually liked a lot of it and wish they hadn’t retconned Diana into being all emo about Max later on in 52 and such. After that lovely final page of her with her supporters, it made me grit my teeth that they portrayed her as just going on fucking vacation for a year afterwards.

    A few points you’ve missed, however:

    - Checkmate isn’t all anti-superhuman, just Max’s considerably large branch of it. The rest of them are just being logical, given how often superhumans tear up city blocks and threaten to blow up cities every other weekday. I really did love Rucka’s later series, Checkmate, where they cleaned house after Max died and paired humans with metahumans at the highest levels. You ever read that? Shame it got cancelled, it was damn near a spy version of Gotham Central.

    - As for the why of the OMACs attacking and such, Brother Eye is just as sentient as he is in the Kirby comics but considerably more emotional. Hence, “the strength of its contempt” etc – it was like a son to Maxwell Lord and considers Wonder Woman his mortal enemy for killing her. He can’t hurt her physically so he does the next best thing with the footage and by sending the army of OMACs to Themyscria.

    - A lot of people hated her killing Max Lord but I never did. She has been shown as being incredibly compassionate but also a warrior as the need arises. A variety of factors were at play here – her having mere seconds before Supes recovered, Max no doubt having put back-up scenario after back-up scenario in Supes’ mind if he were to be captured and/or his remote control of him, Max being under the lasso’s influence and flat-out saying “Kill me” in pure honesty. It wasn’t something I think she did lightly but she did not and should not have regretted it, in my opinion. I do agree that people just wouldn’t shut the fuck up about it and forgot all about the Diana who would give up her eyesight just to save one child – not once, but TWICE – in favor of writing her as a bloodthirsty warrior-killer or an emo depressive in every appearance afterwards.

    Also, I agree that Max’s transformation sucked. Long live the JLI and Bwa-ha-ha!

    Reply

    • Sam Hurwitt

      8 / 15 / 2012 8:30 pm

      Yeah, I know that Checkmate never was anti-superhuman before and never would be again, which is why it was so weird that it was suddenly being portrayed as so virulently so here all of a sudden. Also, as soon as Max was revealed to be part of Checkmate at all, he appeared to be running the whole show (insofar as such a thing is even possible) until Diana quickly put a stop to that.

      I did read at least part of that Checkmate series, and I remember enjoying it.

      Admittedly, I don’t have much of a handle on the new OMACs, because, like I said, I just had an aversion to them, so at least part of my misunderstanding Brother Eye is just not wanting to put in the effort of figuring it out. Thanks for clearing that up.

      And yeah, what I hate about her killing Max is not so much that she did it as that it became such a defining gimmick for her for so long. Not quite as much as how Dr. Light became Dr. Rape forevermore after Identity Crisis, but frankly, he was a lot more expendable. I hated that having killed Max became Diana’s “thing” for so long after this.

      Reply

  2. 8 / 15 / 2012 7:32 pm

    Oh, and two things I forgot: Veronica Cale actually got to rule her own island of mad scientists near North Korea later on in the DCU, thus re-establishing her as an evil head of state with diplomatic immunity . . . just so she could be ignored as YET ANOTHER really interesting kind of enemy for Wonder Woman. *head desk*

    Also, thanks for writing these! I loved being reminded of the best of my favorite/first-ever-read run on Wonder Woman and hope it inspires folks to pick up the trades.

    Reply

    • Sam Hurwitt

      8 / 15 / 2012 8:32 pm

      Oh, I know, I enjoyed what happened with her in 52 and even in Doom Patrol, but as far as I know she and Diana never crossed paths again. And now that Wonder Woman’s been rebooted, it’s basically too late.

      Reply

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